Atlanta has loads of history, culture, outdoor activities, southern hospitality, and plenty of things to do with the kids.
Here’s a few our favorites things to do in Atlanta:
1. Georgia Aquarium
The Georgia Aquarium is the world’s largest aquarium and is home to 100,000 animals, representing 500 species, including four whale sharks and four giant manta rays. The aquarium is designed with the exhibits surrounding a central atrium, which makes it easy for visits to customize their visit. In addition to the exhibits, there’s also a Dolphin Show and, for kids, there are many touch-tanks and hands-on exhibits.
Favorite Exhibits include:
- Ocean Voyager – allows visits to walk through an acrylic tunnel with thousands of fish swimming overhead, including whale sharks and manta rays
- Tropical Diver – features tropical coral reefs full of fish representative of reefs in tropical regions across the world
- Cold Water Quest – exhibits show fish and marine life of all sizes that live in cold water habitats – from Japanese spider crabs to beluga whales to African penguins
- River Scout – explores river life in rivers from Georgia to the Amazon and displays animals such as an albino alligator and an emerald tree boa
- Sea Monsters Revealed – Aquatic Bodies is a new exhibit that displays the anatomy of giant sea creatures preserved through plastination.
The Georgia Aquarium is expensive, but it is well-done. Plan to spend 2-3 hours, and expect crowds on weekends. For people who want a little extra, there are behind-the-scenes tours, programs where visitors can swim with the whale sharks, interact with beluga whales, and more. You can even get married at the Georgia Aquarium – read more here (Photo by Steve Fischer)
2. MLK, Jr., National Historical Site
The MLK, Jr., National Historical Site memorializes the lives legacies of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and his wife, Mrs. Coretta Scott King in a collection of significant landmarks encompassing a couple of city blocks in the Sweet Auburn neighborhood of downtown Atlanta. Buildings at the Historical Site include Dr. King’s birth home, the historic Ebenezer Baptist Church, the historic 1894 Fire Station No. 6, The King Library and Archives, and The Martin Luther King, Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change. The final resting places of Dr. Martin Luther and Coretta Scott King are in a mausoleum on a platform surrounded by a reflecting pool. The Eternal Flame is directly across from them. There are a few statues on the grounds, including a life-size statue of Mahatma Gandhi and a larger-than-life sculpture of an African male lifting his child toward the heavens and calling out ”Behold!”
The MLK, Jr., National Historical Site was established on October 10, 1980, and admission is free. The tour is led by informed guides who have great stories to tell. Tour groups are small and fill up quickly, so it is advisable to arrive early to register – read more here (Photo by Jim Bowen)
3. Fox Theatre
The Fox Theatre is a beautifully restored historic movie palace in Midtown Atlanta that has become a premiere performance venue. The theater was originally built to be a Shrine mosque, and, as such, was constructed with an Islamic/Egyptian design. Financial troubles before construction was completed led to an influx of cash from William Fox, who re-purposed the building into a movie theater. Fox had to declare bankruptcy during the Depression, but the theatre was eventually able to find success as a movie house and dance hall. During the 1970’s, however, revenue were lost to suburban movie theaters and the Fox was a target for demolition. Maynard Ferguson and other performers led efforts to save the theater, and it was soon restored to its original condition and put on the National Register of Historic Places.
The Fox is home to over 300 shows every year and has hosted performances by such iconic artists as Elvis Presley and the Rolling Stones. The Fox Theatre boasts the largest working Moller theatre organ in the world (known as the Mighty Mo), and the Men’s Lounge still contains the original furniture chosen by the wife of movie-mogul William Fox. Although it is really more of a performance venue than a destination, it is still a beautiful structure from the outside. Tours of the venue are available, and shows are memorable. If you make it inside, spend some quality time in the ornate bathrooms – read more here (Photo by arianravan)
4. World of Coca Cola
The World of Coca Cola is the perfect place to learn about the history and legacy of Coke products and their advertising campaigns over the years. The new building opened in 2007 and replaced an original, smaller museum. It is located in the heart of Atlanta near Centennial Olympic Park and the CNN Headquarters.
Highlights of a visit include:
- Meeting the World of Coca-Cola Polar Bear (great photo op)
- Experiencing the Vault of the Secret Formula
- Seeing Norman Rockwell’s Coca-Cola Paintings
- Seeing Howard Finster’s 13-ft. folk art Coke bottle that depicts historical figure
- Getting an inside look at the bottling process
- Taking a virtual trip around the world in a thrilling 4-D movie experience
- Taking home a commemorative glass bottle of Coca Cola
The most fun part of a visit may be the The Taste It! beverage lounge, where guests can taste samples of drinks that Coke makes for the world markets. A VIP Guided Tour of the World of Coca Cola is also available, and, of course there a gift shop where visitors can buy Coke merchandise – read more here (Photo by Katie)
5. Turner Field and Atlanta Braves Baseball
Turner Field was originally built as the main stadium for the 1996 Olympics and was retrofitted into a baseball stadium for the Atlanta Braves after the Olympics ended. “The Ted” is a “new-era” field designed with the fan in mind, which means good seats and lots of attractions, technology and food options. Turner Field is located just south of downtown Atlanta, and the current capacity is 56,790. Visitors can watch the current Braves from a seat with a great view, or visit the old Braves in the museum. In the parking lot there is a portion of the left-field wall from the old Fulton County Stadium over which Hank Aaron launched his home run No. 715 in 1974.
Unfortunately, Turner Field will soon be gone, so get there while you can. The Braves will soon be playing in a new stadium to be built in Cobb County northwest of Atlanta. The move is expected to take place after the 2016 season. Check the Atlanta Braves web site for a schedule of games – read more here (Photo by terren in Virginia)
6. Piedmont Park
Piedmont Park is a large urban park located just northeast of downtown Atlanta in the Midtown and Virginia Highland neighborhoods. At an expansive 189-acres, it is considered to be the Central Park of Atlanta. The origins of the park date back to 1889, when it was converted from a farm to horse racing grounds before holding expositions and later holding a professional baseball stadium.
Piedmont Park features lots of green, open space, great views of downtown skyscrapers, a dog park, a swimming pool, walking/jogging paths, picnic facilities, playgrounds, ponds, etc. Beautiful Lake Clara Meer anchors the southern end of the park, and the Atlanta Botanical Garden is on the north-central side. The Park Tavern was originally built in 1905 as a horse stable before being converted to a golf clubhouse in 1928. In 1990, the building was renovated into a restaurant. It is also a special events venue and a brewpub. In the summer, there are Shakespeare in the Park performances, and the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra performs free concerts in the park. The Atlanta Jazz Festival takes place during Memorial Day weekend. The best attraction is, arguably, the robot bathroom – be sure to seek it out. It is advisable to avoid the park after dark, as things can get sketchy – read more here (Photo by Clinton Steeds)
7. High Museum of Art
The High Museum of Art is considered by many to be the best art museum in the Southeast and is a leader in collecting and promoting southern art. The airy, light-filled museum is located in Midtown and housed in a beautiful, all-white building designed by architect Richard Meier. The permanent collection holds more than 14,000 works of art, including a significant inventory of 19th- and 20th-century American and decorative art, plus a good selection of European paintings and African American art. The High is the only major museum in North America to have a curatorial department specifically devoted to the field of folk and self-taught art, much of it from the South. In addition to its permanent collection, the High Museum of Art hosts many special exhibits.
For kids, the Greene Family Gallery gives smaller children a chance to draw, make a Howard Finster-type sculptures from discarded objects, build model buildings, or make a puppet. For older kids, Discovery backpacks take families on engaging 30- to 45-minute journeys through the High, complete with games and puzzles. Visitors who love art could easily spend a half-day here. For visitors don’t absolutely love art, there are special deals on off-hour tickets. Check their web site for details – read more here (Photo by Chris Yunker)
8. Inside CNN Studio Tour
The Inside CNN Studio Tour offers visitors a 55 minute self-guided tour through Atlanta’s Cable News Network broadcasting headquarters that provides an up-close look the global news network. Bonus: the tour starts with a ride up the largest free standing escalator in the world at 8 stories. The Cable News Network was launched on June 1, 1980, with an introduction by Ted Turner. As of 2010, CNN was available in over 100 million U.S. households. Its global iteration, CNN International, is available is over 200 countries and territories.
For those news junkies wanting more, there is also a VIP tour available that includes a guide, a visit to the actual control room, and the opportunity to see a live news broadcast. There is also a Morning Express Tour that goes behind the scenes of the Morning Express with Robin Meade show. The regular Inside CNN Studio Tour is interesting and informative for all ages, but the more extensive tours do not allow children under the age of 12 – read more here (Photo by Richie Diesterheft)
9. Atlanta History Center and Margaret Mitchell House
The Atlanta History Center may seem like a bit of an uninspired name for this place, but the name is spot-on accurate. The Center includes the Atlanta History Museum, the Swan House, the Margaret Mitchell House, 22 acres of gardens, and the Smith Family Farm.
At the Atlanta History Center, the six permanent exhibits present history from the time of the Native Americans to the Civil War to the 1996 Olympics. The Turning Point: The American Civil War exhibit is award-winning.
The Margaret Mitchell House is actually located 5 miles away in Atlanta’s Midtown neighborhood. Visitors are treated to guided tours of the apartment where Margaret Mitchell wrote Gone With the Wind, along with exhibits showcases her life. There is also a Gone With the Wind movie exhibition and a gift shop.
The Swan House was built in 1928 and was the home of Edward and Emily Inman. Inman was a wealthy cotton broker, and the lavish home was built so the he could the couple could entertain guests. It was named for the swan motifs that are present throughout the house. Unfortunately, Inman passed away three years after moving into the home. He was an avid car collector and racer, and many of his trophies are displayed. The house was recently used as a filming location for The Hunger Games: Catching Fire.
The Smith Family Farm includes an 1840’s plantation house owned by the Robert Smith family, along with a dairy, blacksmith shop, smokehouse, slave cabin, and barn. The surrounding land includes vegetable and herb gardens, a flower gardens, and slave gardens. Costumed interpreters lead guided tours and explain life in the rural South.
History buffs could spend an entire day at the Atlanta History Center – there is that much to see. It is pricey, so the ticket price warrants that you at least spend a few hours – read more here (Photo by Jim Bowen)
10. Center for Civil and Human Rights
The Center for Civil and Human Rights is a new museum that documents the history and legacy of the civil rights movement in the United States and, on a broader level, recounts the struggles and successes of human rights movements worldwide. The Center opened in 2014 and was spearheaded by former members of the African-American civil rights movement of the 1960’s, including former Atlanta mayor Andrew Young and Congressman John Lewis.
The Center is located in downtown Atlanta near the World of Coca-Cola, the Georgia Aquarium, and the Centennial Olympic Park. The architecturally-stunning building features two exterior walls that curve around a central glass atrium. Inside, the three main exhibits focus on the American Civil Rights Movement, Martin Luther King, Jr., and the global fight for rights for women, LGBT individuals, and victims of oppressive regimes. One of the most moving exhibits invites visitors to experience what it was like to participate in the lunch-counter demonstrations where black protesters bravely sat at “whites only” lunch counters. In this exhibit, visitors actually sit at the counter and wear headphones that play audio that simulating the abuse that the protesters had to endure – read more here (Photo by Lee Coursey)
11. Oakland Cemetery
Oakland Cemetery is Atlanta’s oldest and most historic cemetery, as well as being a beautiful 48 acre green space near downtown. Founded in 1850, the cemetery is one of the few places in Atlanta that wasn’t destroyed by Sherman on his march to the sea and survived the Civil War. Oakland the resting place of Atlanta notables such as golfer Bobby Jones (visitors leave golf ball offerings at his gravesite), Gone with the Wind author Margaret Mitchell, six former governors, and over 7,000 Union and Confederate soldiers. Separate sections for Jews, African Americans, and Confederate soldiers. Over 70,000 people have made the cemetery their final resting place.
It’s a beautiful place to stroll along the miles of brick streets and admire the beautiful monuments. Ancient oaks revels glimpses of the Atlanta skyline through the leaves. Guided tours of Oakland Cemetery are available. It is also worthwhile to purchase a map – read more here (Photo by Chris Lexow)
12. Zoo Atlanta
Zoo Atlanta is one of the oldest zoos in the country and one of only 4 zoos in the United States that houses giant pandas. It was founded in 1889 and is home to over 1,500 animals. The zoo went through a period of neglect and disrepair in the 1970’s, but revitalization efforts that began in the 1980’s have greatly improved the facilities and experience for both the animals and the visitors. Many of the animals are now housed in open habitats instead of cages, so visitors may not see every animal.
In addition to the pandas, the zoo also houses one of the country’s most extensive collection of gorillas and orangutans. The Ford African Rain Forest exhibit opened in 1988 and houses 21 gorillas, including a rare set of twins that were born there in 2005. Other popular animals for visitors are the sun bears and the elephants. Zoo Atlanta is not large, but it does make for a good, quality experience for a half-day. The restaurant is crowded and a bit over-priced – read more here (Photo by David Berkowitz)
13. Centennial Olympic Park
Centennial Olympic Park is a nice, open area just west of downtown with water fountains for kids to play in and lots of free concerts. The 21 acre park is so-named because it was constructed for the 1996 Summer Olympics. There is a self-guided audio tour through the park that explains the history of the area and the local landmarks, along with trivia and an original music soundtrack. The tour begins and ends at the parks Visitor Center and takes about an hour.
The centerpiece of the park is the Fountain of Ring, a dancing water show with music, lights and sound effects. In addition to the fountains, kids will enjoy the Childrens Garden and Playground. In the winter, there is ice skating in the park. Regularly scheduled events at the park include Music at Noon, Wednesday Wind Down, and Fourth Saturday Family Fun Day. See their web site for details and schedule. Centennial Olympic Park is located near the Georgia Aquarium, the CNN Center, and the World of Coca-Cola, and it is within walking distance of many MARTA stations – read more here (Photo by terra2055)
14. Stone Mountain Park
Stone Mountain Park claims to have both the world’s largest piece of exposed granite rock and the longest-running laser show. In actuality, Stone Mountain is not made of granite dome, but is instead made from a composition ranging from quartz monzonite to granite and granodiorite. Regardless, nobody’s complaining – with an average of more than 4-million annual visitors, Stone Mountain Park is Georgia’s most popular attraction.
The Summit Skyride is possibly the main attraction – it whisks guests past the figures etched into the stone in the Confederate Memorial Carving up to the 1,686 foot summit for a very impressive view of Atlanta a few miles to the west. Guests can also hike to to summit instead of taking the tram. The view is especially nice at sunset. The Lasershow Spectacular in Mountainvision has been entertaining crowds for over 30 years with its show featuring lights, music, and fireworks. Other attractions include the Scenic Railroad, Ride The Ducks, the Geyser Towers, the 4-D theatre, and SkyHike, the nation’s largest family adventure ropes and tunnels course – read more here (Photo by inazakira)
15. Eastside BeltLine Trail
Eastside BeltLine Trail is part of a planned 33-mile Atlanta BeltLine trail system that will eventually circle the city. The Eastside Beltline was the second section to open and is the first finished section to be built in the old rail corridor east of town. The Trail currently runs 2.25 miles runs from the tip of Piedmont Park south to Irwin Street, passing through the historic neighborhoods of Virginia Highland, Midtown, Poncey-Highland, Old Fourth Ward and Inman Park. Greenspaces along the way include Piedmont Park, Historic Fourth Ward Park and the Freedom Park trail. There are now multiple entrances onto the BeltLine, and connectors to Inman Park, Historic Fourth Ward Skatepark, Historic Fourth Ward, Beltline Kroger, and even a short walk from Krog Street Market. Parking can be tough and may require some searching at times.
The entire trail is paved and fairly flat, making it easy walking for children and easy for biking or skating. With lot of people on the trail at any given time, plus camera stations and public places just off the Trail, it is generally very safe. Seasonal planting and greenery line the trail, and there’s changing artwork along the path that highlights local artists. Numerous restaurants along the trail provide opportunities for stopping, and many offer outdoor seating. Other opened parts of the BeltLine are the Northside Trail and the West End Trail – read more here (Photo by ATL2.Oh!)
16. Atlanta Botanical Garden
Atlanta Botanical Garden contains more than 30 acres of gardens, forest, and wildflower trails in the north end of Piedmont Park in the Midtown neighborhood of Atlanta. The Fuqua Conservatory was added in 1989 and is an organic biosphere that is home to significant collections of tropical palms and conifers. The Fuqua Orchid Center was added in 2002 and contains the foremost collection of orchids in the United States. The water garden outside of the Conservatory contains carnivorous plants from across the Southeast as well as endangered species of frogs from around the world.
In 1999, the award-winning Children’s Garden was added. Kids will love the popular Canopy Walk through Storza Woods with its 40-foot high suspension bridge and treetop walking trail. There is also an Edible Garden featuring an Outdoor Demonstration Kitchen and an Edible Garden Green Wall. Atlanta Botanical Garden also has many festivals and special exhibitions – including a Christmas season display featuring over 1 million lights – read more here (Photo by Rob Bixby)
17. Center for Puppetry Arts
The Center for Puppetry Arts is a bit of a hidden gem for visitors to Atlanta. It formed in 1978 and is actually the country’s largest organization dedicated to puppetry. Their puppet shows showcase the different styles of puppetry, including marionettes, rod puppets, and the life-size bunraku style. The shows are presented by both locals and touring troupes and are entertaining for both children and adults. They also offer build-a-puppet workshops, a library, and interactive discovery programs.The on-site museum has a permanent collection boasting over 350 puppets from around the world, including many Jim Henson puppets from The Muppet Show, puppets from The Dark Crystal, and the infamous Madame from Wayland Flowers’ Madames Place.
In 2014, it was announced that The Center for Puppetry Arts will expand to become home to new museum spaced dedicated to the work of Muppets creator Jim Henson. The Center also has a well-stocked gift shop with puppets and other unique items – read more here (Photo by Ayleen Gaspar)
18. Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area
Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area actually consists of a series of public recreation areas along a 48 mile stretch of the Chattahoochee River from Atlanta northward to Lake Lanier. The Chattahoochee River NRA headquarters and visitors center are located at the Island Ford Park just outside of I-285 in Sandy Springs. With big trees, a wide river, bubbling streams, and beautiful trails, this park offers a slice of wilderness very near to downtown Atlanta. Three miles of hiking trails meander through the park and along the river, past large rock outcroppings, a lake, and across an old wooden bridge. Besides hiking, there are opportunities for picnicking, fishing and rafting – read more here (Photo by Mikel Manitius)
19. Your DeKalb Farmers Market
Your DeKalb Farmers Market is a former produce stand that has grown into a huge grocery store, fruit and vegetable market, international foods emporium, and food court. The Market is very much like a 140,000 sq. ft. refrigerator full of really delicious, fresh food. Walk around and discover lots of both exotic and local produce, plus house-made items such as pastas and nut butters. It boasts a huge fish selection and an enormous selection of organic, grass-fed, and naturally-raised meats. Breads, cakes, cookies and pastries are made fresh on site each day, and there are more than 400 different varieties of cheeses from around the world. The beer and wine selection is seemingly endless.
Your DeKalb Farmers Market was started by Robert Blazer in 1977 as a small produce stand, and it was the first privately-owned farmers market in Georgia. The market is located in Scottdale just a few miles Northeast of downtown Atlanta and Decatur – read more here (Photo by rmkoske)
20. Dad’s Garage Theatre Company
Dad’s Garage Theatre Company is an improv and theatre troupe was founded in 1995 and is consistently named the best improv company in Atlanta. Dad’s offers a mix of original stage productions and a long-running history of improvisational comedy performances every Thursday, Friday, and Saturday night. Original productions include The Revengence, Effed Up Fairy Tales, and the sci-fi parody Battle: Space Wars. Two of the most popular presentations are “TheatreSports” and “Superscene.” TheatreSports is the company’s longest-running improv show, and, in it, two teams of improv artists compete against each other based on suggestions from the audience. A host serves as referee, and a scum box keeps everything in line. In Superscene, five directors compete against each other based on improv stories they create based on audience suggestions. The teams take turns presenting a team, and one team is eliminated every round, leaving one winning director and team at the end.
Dad’s lost their old location in 2013 and they have been performing at the 7 Stages Theatre in the Little Points neighborhood while searching for a new home. In 2015, Dad’s will move to a former church building in the Old Fourth Ward neighborhood – read more here (Photo by TimothyJ)
21. The Jimmy Carter Presidential Center
The Jimmy Carter Presidential Center is located in the Virginia-Highlands neighborhood of Atlanta and contains both The Carter Museum and Library and the Carter Center. Additionally, the property contains thirty-five acres of gardens that are open to the public year-round.
The Carter Museum and Library is the presidential library that documents Jimmy Carter’s life from humble beginnings in rural southern Georgia to his career as a peanut farmer, his entry into politics, and his ascension to the presidency. Touchpoints include the Iran hostage crisis, the struggles with economic inflation, the Camp David negotiations for peace between Egypt and Israel, the revised Panama Canal treaty, and the nation’s recovery from the Watergate scandal.
The Carter Center opened in 1982 as a partnership with Emory University with the purpose of advancing human rights, alleviating unnecessary suffering, and improving the quality of life for people in more than 65 countries. The Center was first opening with the purpose of negotiating peace agreements between countries and helping troubled elections around the world, but the purpose soon evolved into working to eradicate tropical diseases. In 2002, President Carter received the Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts directed through the Center.
The sprawling grounds of the Center contain flower gardens, fountains, walking paths, and a Japanese pond – read more here (Photo by Mike)
22. Bicycle Tours of Atlanta
Bicycle Tours of Atlanta let’s visitors see, hear and feel the city’s sights and neighborhoods as the tour groups explore Atlanta by bike at a leisurely pace. The bikes are comfortable and in great shape, and the staff takes the time to fit them to each rider. Tour price includes water and the use of a helmet.
Tour choices include:
- Heart of the City – travels 10 miles through historic neighborhoods in 3 hours – this is the most popular tour and offers the most history
- Atlanta Art Tour – this tour concentrates on the outdoor art of Atlanta, including everything from the graffiti of the Living Walls to bronze monuments
- Beltline and Piedmont Park – the easiest and shortest tour explores Piedmont Park, the historic Old Fourth Ward, and the burgeoning Beltline art scene
- Progressive Dinner – this tour makes stops at a few of Atlanta’s most highly-regarded restaurants and is customized to each group’s dining preferences.
Tours are offered daily from March through October – read more here (Photo by TimothyJ)
23. Michael C. Carlos Museum
The Michael C. Carlos Museum is located on the campus of Emory University and is devoted to ancient art from Egypt, Greece, Rome, the Near East, Africa and the ancient Americas. The museum is a bit of a hidden gem, but those who discover it will find a world-class collection of art that dates back to the earliest human civilizations. The collection contains more than 16,000 works, including Egyptian mummies, Greek and Roman pottery, and one of the earliest bathtubs in existence. The museum is not over-whelming, and it is typically not crowded.
The origins of the museum date back to 1876, and it was originally known as the Emory College Museum. In 1985, Atlanta businessman Michael C. Carlos donated over $20 million to create a permanent home for the museum. The museum’s name was changed to the Michael C. Carlos Museum after undergoing a major expansion in 1993 – read more here (Photo by Daniel Mayer)
Featured photo by Jesse Budlong. All photos CC-BY-2.0.
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